While Muslim, or “modest”, fashion is a new phenomenon in Japan, halal products have been on the menu here for some years now.
Japan Tourism Board figures show a record high number of visitors to Japan last year – more than 24 million people – says Tomoyuki Iizuka of the market research company Yano Research Institute.
The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games are scheduled to be held in 2020, and it is expected that the number of foreign guests visiting Japan will increase further, Mr Iizuka says.
Running alongside the first Tokyo Modest Fashion Show in November was the third Halal Expo Japan, organised by Halal Media Japan.
Zarook Mohammed exhibited there as the halal foods division manager for Global Corporation, a Japanese company that imports Jakim Malaysia-approved chicken products and ready-made flat breads, as well as tea from Sri Lanka.
“Many Japanese people think it is religious food and hesitate to consume it if there is a ‘halal’ label,” he says.
Yet, Kariya Bin Sulong, the owner of KZ Meliponines Paradise of Brunei, who exhibited at the show, thinks there is a market here for his company’s halal-certified stingless-bee honey.
Stingless bee honey is unique and rare, Mr Sulong says.
There is a severe lack of education with regards to the halal market and venues such as Halal Expo Japan serve to demonstrate just how lucrative the market is globally, and just how lucrative it could potentially be for Japan in particular, says Sami Hamdi, the founder of online magazine The National Interest.
“There is certainly a desire amongst the Japanese authorities to develop the [halal] industry in line with ambitions to attract a sizeable segment of the 78 million Muslim travellers who visit Asia, particularly as the rise of far-right groups in Europe and the presence of Trump in the US force Muslims [from some countries] to look East for new holiday destinations,” he says.
There must also be an understanding of the business culture in Japan. Unlike in the West there are established customs here that are taken very seriously. “One ignores these customs at their own peril,” Mr Hamdi says.
Some Japanese companies that exhibited at the Halal Expo Japan also said they plan to export to countries with a large Muslim population. Choya, a producer of plum liquor called “umeshu,” started producing non-alcohol carbonated umeshu in 2011 following the growth of the non-alcohol beer market. The company acquired halal certification for its product in September from the Islamic Centre Japan.
Japanese exporters may find some push back in Arabian Gulf countries against goods such as raw fish, and it is often said that Japanese food can be an “acquired” taste.
“Japanese food is often looked at with curiosity, and Japanese halal exporters may find this curiosity surrounding their products to be an advantage and a window within which to make a very good impression,” he says.
It is worth noting that many Muslims who visit Japan are often surprised at its unique flavour combinations such as green tea in confectionery, something currently unavailable in many parts of the Muslim world, Mr Hamdi says.
Originally Published on www.thenational.ae